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CHAPTER VI.


At Bayonne, a garrison town on the south frontier of France, two
sentinels walked lethargically, crossing and recrossing before the
governor's house. Suddenly their official drowsiness burst into
energy; for a pale, grisly man, in rusty, defaced, dirty, and torn
regimentals, was walking into the courtyard as if it belonged to
him. The sentinels lowered their muskets, and crossed them with a
clash before the gateway.

The scarecrow did not start back. He stopped and looked down with a
smile at the steel barrier the soldiers had improvised for him, then
drew himself a little up, carried his hand carelessly to his cap,
which was nearly in two, and gave the name of an officer in the
French army.

If you or I, dressed like a beggar who years ago had stolen
regimentals and worn them down to civil garments, had addressed
these soldiers with these very same words, the bayonets would have
kissed closer, or perhaps the points been turned against our sacred
and rusty person: but there is a freemasonry of the sword. The
light, imperious hand that touched that battered cap, and the quiet
clear tone of command told. The sentinels slowly recovered their
pieces, but still looked uneasy and doubtful in their minds. The
battered one saw this, and gave a sort of lofty smile; he turned up
his cuffs and showed his wrists, and drew himself still higher.

The sentinels shouldered their pieces sharp, then dropped them
simultaneously with a clatter and ring upon the pavement.

"Pass, captain."

The rusty figure rang the governor's bell. A servant came and eyed
him with horror and contempt. He gave his name, and begged to see
the governor. The servant left him in the hall, and went up-stairs
to tell his master. At the name the governor reflected, then
frowned, then bade his servant reach him down a certain book. He
inspected it. "I thought so: any one with him?"

"No, your excellency."

"Load my pistols, put them on the table, show him in, and then order
a guard to the door."

The governor was a stern veteran with a powerful brow, a shaggy
eyebrow, and a piercing eye. He never rose, but leaned his chin on
his hand, and his elbow on a table that stood between them, and eyed
his visitor very fixedly and strangely. "We did not expect to see
you on this side the Pyrenees," said he gravely.

"Nor I myself, governor."

"What do you come for?"

"A suit of regimentals, and money to take me to Paris."

"And suppose, instead of that, I turn out a corporal's guard, and
bid them shoot you in the courtyard?"

"It would be the drollest thing you ever did, all things considered,"
said the other coolly, but bitterly.

The governor looked for the book he had lately consulted, found the
page, handed it to the rusty officer, and watched him keenly: the
blood rushed all over his face, and his lip trembled; but his eye
dwelt stern yet sorrowful on the governor.

"I have read your book, now read mine." He drew off his coat and
showed his wrists and arms, blue and waled. "Can you read that,
sir?"

"No."

"All the better for you: Spanish fetters, general." He showed a
white scar on his shoulder. "Can you read that? This is what I cut
out of it," and he handed the governor a little round stone as big
and almost as regular as a musket-ball.

"Humph! that could hardly have been fired from a French musket."

"Can you read this?" and he showed him a long cicatrix on his other
arm.

"Knife I think," said the governor.

"You are right, sir: Spanish knife. Can you read this?" and opening
his bosom he showed a raw wound on his breast.

"Oh, the devil!" cried the governor.

The wounded man put his rusty coat on again, and stood erect, and
haughty, and silent.

The general eyed him, and saw his great spirit shining through this
man. The more he looked the less could the scarecrow veil the hero
from his practised eye. He said there must be some mistake, or else
he was in his dotage; after a moment's hesitation, he added, "Be
seated, if you please, and tell me what you have been doing all
these years."

"Suffering."

"Not all the time, I suppose."

"Without intermission."

"But what? suffering what?"

"Cold, hunger, darkness, wounds, solitude, sickness, despair,
prison, all that man can suffer."

"Impossible! a man would be dead at that rate before this."

"I should have died a dozen deaths but for one thing; I had promised
her to live."

There was a pause. Then the old soldier said gravely, but more
kindly, to the young one, "Tell me the facts, captain" (the first
time he had acknowledged his visitor's military rank).

An hour had scarce elapsed since the rusty figure was stopped by the
sentinels at the gate, when two glittering officers passed out under
the same archway, followed by a servant carrying a furred cloak.
The sentinels presented arms. The elder of these officers was the
governor: the younger was the late scarecrow, in a brand-new uniform
belonging to the governor's son. He shone out now in his true
light; the beau ideal of a patrician soldier; one would have said he
had been born with a sword by his side and drilled by nature, so
straight and smart, yet easy he was in every movement. He was like
a falcon, eye and all, only, as it were, down at the bottom of the
hawk's eye lay a dove's eye. That compound and varying eye seemed
to say, I can love, I can fight: I can fight, I can love, as few of
you can do either.

The old man was trying to persuade him to stay at Bayonne, until his
wound should be cured.

"No, general, I have other wounds to cure of longer standing than
this one."

"Well, promise me to lay up at Paris."

"General, I shall stay an hour at Paris."

"An hour in Paris! Well, at least call at the War Office and
present this letter."

That same afternoon, wrapped in the governor's furred cloak, the
young officer lay at his full length in the coupe of the diligence,
the whole of which the governor had peremptorily demanded for him,
and rolled day and night towards Paris.

He reached it worn with fatigue and fevered by his wound, but his
spirit as indomitable as ever. He went to the War Office with the
governor's letter. It seemed to create some little sensation; one
functionary came and said a polite word to him, then another. At
last to his infinite surprise the minister himself sent down word he
wished to see him; the minister put several questions to him, and
seemed interested in him and touched by his relation.

"I think, captain, I shall have to send to you: where do you stay in
Paris?"

"Nowhere, monsieur; I leave Paris as soon as I can find an easy-
going horse."

"But General Bretaux tells me you are wounded."

"Not dangerously."

"Pardon me, captain, but is this prudent? is it just to yourself and
your friends?"

"Yes, I owe it to those who perhaps think me dead."

"You can write to them."

"I grudge so great, so sacred a joy to a letter. No! after all I
have suffered I claim to be the one to tell her I have kept my word:
I promised to live, and I live."

"HER? then I say no more, only tell me what road you take."

"The road to Brittany."

As the young officer was walking his horse by the roadside about a
league and a half from Paris, he heard a clatter behind him, and up
galloped an aide-de-camp and drew up alongside, bringing his horse
nearly on his haunches.

He handed him a large packet sealed with the arms of France. The
other tore it open; and there was his brevet as colonel. His cheek
flushed and his eye glittered with joy. The aide-de-camp next gave
him a parcel: "Your epaulets, colonel! We hear you are going into
the wilds where epaulets don't grow. You are to join the army of
the Rhine as soon as your wound is well."

"Wherever my country calls me."

"Your address, then, colonel, that we may know where to put our
finger on a tried soldier when we want one."

"I am going to Beaurepaire."

"Beaurepaire? I never heard of it."

"You never heard of Beaurepaire? it is in Brittany, forty-five
leagues from Paris, forty-three leagues and a half from here."

"Good! Health and honor to you, colonel."

"The same to you, lieutenant; or a soldier's death."

The new colonel read the precious document across his horse's mane,
and then he was going to put one of the epaulets on his right
shoulder, bare at present: but he reflected.

"No; she should make him a colonel with her own dear hand. He put
them in his pocket. He would not even look at them till she had
seen them. Oh, how happy he was not only to come back to her alive,
but to come back to her honored."

His wound smarted, his limbs ached, but no pain past or present
could lay hold of his mind. In his great joy he remembered past
suffering and felt present pain--yet smiled. Only every now and
then he pined for wings to shorten the weary road.

He was walking his horse quietly, drooping a little over his saddle,
when another officer well mounted came after him and passed him at a
hand gallop with one hasty glance at his uniform, and went tearing
on like one riding for his life.

"Don't I know that face?" said Dujardin.

He cudgelled his memory, and at last he remembered it was the face
of an old comrade. At least it strongly reminded him of one Jean
Raynal who had saved his life in the Arno, when they were lieutenants
together.

Yes, it was certainly Raynal, only bronzed by service in some hot
country.

"Ah!" thought Camille; "I suppose I am more changed than he is; for
he certainly did not recognize me at all. Now I wonder what that
fellow has been doing all this time. What a hurry he was in! a
moment more and I should have hailed him. Perhaps I may fall in
with him at the next town."

He touched his horse with the spur, and cantered gently on, for
trotting shook him more than he could bear. Even when he cantered
he had to press his hand against his bosom, and often with the
motion a bitterer pang than usual came and forced the water from his
eyes; and then he smiled. His great love and his high courage made
this reply to the body's anguish. And still his eyes looked
straight forward as at some object in the distant horizon, while he
came gently on, his hand pressed to his bosom, his head drooping now
and then, smiling patiently, upon the road to Beaurepaire.

Oh! if anybody had told him that in five days his Josephine was to
be married; and that the bronzed comrade, who had just galloped past
him, was to marry her!


At Beaurepaire they were making and altering wedding-dresses. Rose
was excited, and even Josephine took a calm interest. Dress never
goes for nothing with her sex. The chairs and tables were covered,
and the floor was littered. The baroness was presiding over the
rites of vanity, and telling them what she wore at her wedding,
under Louis XV., with strict accuracy, and what we men should
consider a wonderful effort of memory, when the Commandant Raynal
came in like a cannon-ball, without any warning, and stood among
them in a stiff, military attitude. Exclamations from all the
party, and then a kind greeting, especially from the baroness.

"We have been so dull without you, Jean."

"And I have missed you once or twice, mother-in-law, I can tell you.
Well, I have got bad news; but you must consider we live in a busy
time. To-morrow I start for Egypt."

Loud ejaculations from the baroness and Rose. Josephine put down
her work quietly.

The baroness sighed deeply, and the tears came into her eyes. "Oh,
you must not be down-hearted, old lady," shouted Raynal. "Why, I am
as likely to come back from Egypt as not. It is an even chance, to
say the least."

This piece of consolation completed the baroness's unhappiness. She
really had conceived a great affection for Raynal, and her heart had
been set on the wedding.

"Take away all that finery, girls," said she bitterly; "we shall not
want it for years. I shall not be alive when he comes home from
Egypt. I never had a son--only daughters--the best any woman ever
had; but a mother is not complete without a son, and I shall never
live to have one now."

"I hate General Bonaparte," said Rose viciously.

"Hate my general?" groaned Raynal, looking down with a sort of
superstitious awe and wonder at the lovely vixen. "Hate the best
soldier the world ever saw?"

"What do I care for his soldiership? He has put off our wedding.
For how many years did you say?"

"No; he has put it on."

In answer to the astonished looks this excited, he explained that
the wedding was to have been in a week, but now it must be to-morrow
at ten o'clock.

The three ladies set up their throats together. "Tomorrow?"

"To-morrow. Why, what do you suppose I left Paris for yesterday?
left my duties even."

"What, monsieur?" asked Josephine, timidly, "did you ride all that
way, and leave your duties MERELY TO MARRY ME?" and she looked a
little pleased.

"You are worth a great deal more trouble than that," said Raynal
simply. "Besides, I had passed my word, and I always keep my word."

"So do I," said Josephine, a little proudly. "I will not go from it
now, if you insist; but I confess to you, that such a proposal
staggers me; so sudden--no preliminaries--no time to reflect; in
short, there are so many difficulties that I must request you to
reconsider the matter."

"Difficulties," shouted Raynal with merry disdain; "there are none,
unless you sit down and make them; we do more difficult things than
this every day of our lives: we passed the bridge of Arcola in
thirteen minutes; and we had not the consent of the enemy, as we
have yours--have we not?"

Her only reply was a look at her mother, to which the baroness
replied by a nod; then turning to Raynal, "This empressement is very
flattering; but I see no possibility: there is an etiquette we
cannot altogether defy: there are preliminaries before a daughter of
Beaurepaire can become a wife."

"There used to be all that, madam," laughed Raynal, putting her down
good-humoredly; "but it was in the days when armies came out and
touched their caps to one another, and went back into winter
quarters. Then the struggle was who could go slowest; now the fight
is who can go fastest. Time and Bonaparte wait for nobody; and
ladies and other strong places are taken by storm, not undermined a
foot a month as under Noah Quartorze: let me cut this short, as time
is short."

He then drew a little plan of a wedding campaign. "The carriages
will be here at 9 A.M.," said he; "they will whisk us down to the
mayor's house by a quarter to ten: Picard, the notary, meets us
there with the marriage contract, to save time; the contract signed,
the mayor will do the marriage at quick step out of respect for me--
half an hour--quarter past ten; breakfast in the same house an hour
and a quarter:--we mustn't hurry a wedding breakfast--then ten
minutes or so for the old fogies to waste in making speeches about
our virtues--my watch will come out--my charger will come round--I
rise from the table--embrace my dear old mother--kiss my wife's
hand--into the saddle--canter to Paris--roll to Toulon--sail to
Egypt. But I shall leave a wife and a mother behind me: they will
both send me a kind word now and then; and I will write letters to
you all from Egypt, and when I come home, my wife and I will make
acquaintance, and we will all be happy together: and if I am killed
out there, don't you go and fret your poor little hearts about it;
it is a soldier's lot sooner or later. Besides, you will find I
have taken care of you; nobody shall come and turn you out of your
quarters, even though Jean Raynal should be dead; I have got to meet
Picard at Riviere's on that very business--I am off."

He was gone as brusquely as he came.

"Mother! sister!" cried Josephine, "help me to love this man."

"You need no help," cried the baroness, with enthusiasm, "not love
him, we should all be monsters."

Raynal came to supper looking bright and cheerful. "No more work
to-day. I have nothing to do but talk; fancy that."

This evening Josephine de Beaurepaire, who had been silent and
thoughtful, took a quiet opportunity, and purred in his ear,
"Monsieur!"

"Mademoiselle!" rang the trombone.

"Am I not to go to Egypt?"

"No."

Josephine drew back at this brusque reply like a sensitive plant.
But she returned to the attack.

"But is it not a wife's duty to be by her husband's side to look
after his comfort--to console him when others vex him--to soothe him
when he is harassed?"

"Her first duty is to obey him."

"Certainly."

"Well, when I am your husband, I shall bid you stay with your mother
and sister while I go to Egypt."

"I shall obey you."

He told her bluntly he thought none the worse of her for making the
offer; but should not accept it.


Camille Dujardin slept that night at a roadside inn about twelve
miles from Beaurepaire, and not more than six from the town where
the wedding was to take place next day.

It was a close race.

And the racers all unconscious of each other, yet spurred impartially
by events that were now hurrying to a climax.





White Lies by Charles Reade
Category:
English Literature
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